Biodiversity Conservation

The word, “Biodiversity”, is combination of two words, “Bio” means life and “diversity” means variety. Therefore, Biodiversity is variety of various living organisms present on earth and they are interrelated and interacting with each other’s in their ecosystem or habitat.

What is meant by biodiversity conservation?

Biodiversity conservation deals with various ways protecting biodiversity. It ranges from protecting the population of a specific species (plant or animal) to preserving entire ecosystems.

There are two main types of conservation:

  • In-situ (on-site) conservation, which tries to protect species where they are, that is, in their natural habitat.
  • Ex-situ (off-site) conservation, which attempt to preserve and protect the species in a place away from their natural habitat.

In general, in-situ conservation is more cost-effective. In many cases, however, the ex-situ approach may be the only feasible one.

What are the methods of ex-situ and in-situ Biodiversity conservation?

The most common methods of ex-situ conservation are:

  • Storage of seeds in banks
  • Breeding of captive animal species in zoos
  • Setting up botanical gardens, aquariums, and research institutes.

In-situ conservation is practiced primarily by setting up protected areas and limiting human interference

How do seed banks work?

A seed bank is a kind of gene bank that stores seeds of food crops or any rare species of plants. Seed banks protect us against the extinction of plant species due to natural catastrophes, outbreaks of diseases, and even deliberate non-use for a long time. Seed banks make our diminishing biodiversity available to future generations. Typically, the seeds are dried to a suitably, low moisture content and stored at -180C or below. The bank also documents the plant’s identity, sampling location, seed quantity, farming system in which the crop grown, etc.

The advantages of seed banks are:

  • Ease of storage
  • Economy of space: They can store a very large amount of plant genetic material in small space.
  • Relatively low labour demands.

Overall, seed banks have the capacity to maintain large samples at an economically viable cost (compared to other ex-situ methods).

The disadvantages of seed banks are:

  • Because seed RNA (like animal DNA) degrades with time, the seeds need to be periodically replanted and fresh seeds collected for another round of long-term storage.
  • Fire accidents or power failures can permanently damage the seeds.
  • Seeds in a bank do not evolve in relationship to outer circumstances. When they are later reintroduced into the field, they may be less fit for survival.
  • We can only store a very small part of global biodiversity seed banks.
  • Seed banks are an expensive option for the poorer countries.

There are hundreds of seed banks and seed exchanges in the world, but most of them are in the industrialized countries.

What is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault?

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the world’s largest secure seed storage, opened by the Norwegian  Government in February 2008. Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. Fully funded by the Norwegian government, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is supported by UN FAO and an international council.

The seed Vault is blasted into the rock base of Mount Plateau. The total area is 1000 sq m, but only the concrete entrance lobby is visible outside. The vault is situated in permafrost, at a constant 3-4 degrees Celsius below zero. The Seed Vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million different seed types. Thus it can hold duplicates of all the unique seed types currently existing in the many gene banks around the world and will also be able to accommodate new seed types collected in the future.

In total, the vault now holds about 1, 76,000 seed deposits covering over 6000 species. They are duplicates of seed sample stores in national, regional and international gene banks. The Seed Vault offers its services to all types of gene banks seeking security storage for unique seed samples. Seed samples in the Vault remain the property of the gene bank that deposit them. These regional gene banks ensure that seed samples are made available to farmers, researchers, and processors in accordance with international regulations.

What are the other major seed banks of the world?

Three other major seed banks are:

  • Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project, located at Royal Botanical Gardens, England.
  • National Center for Genetic Resources (NCGR), US
  • Vavilov Research Institute (VRI), Russia.

What is the Role of zoos in biodiversity conservation?

Along with many other animal, zoos often preserve a few individuals of critically endangered species. If an animal breeds in captivity, the zoo may ultimately reintroduce the species into protected reserves.

Zoos need large spaces and huge funds. Only a small percentage of endangered species can be protected in zoos. The public tends to support the saving of a large or popular species like the tiger, elephant, and panda. There is not much interest in protecting smaller or less attractive species, even if they are known to be very important for the ecosystem.

How do botanical gardens conserve biodiversity?

There are over 1600 botanical gardens in the world, holding 4 million plants. They cover about 80,000 species or 30% of all known species. The largest one is Kew Gardens in England, which has 25,000 species. When Britain was an imperial power, large numbers of plant species were taken from the colonies to the Kew Gardens.

Botanical gardens have a significant educational value for scientists and students. Like zoos, botanical gardens too face the problems of funds and space. They increasingly focus on rare and endangered species. Many botanical gardens also have seed banks.

How is conservation done in-situ?

In-situ conservation covers the following:

  • Identification of natural areas that have (or had in the past) high levels of biodiversity.
  • Declaring and managing such areas as ‘protected areas’.

What is a protected area?

IUCN defines a protected area as a clearly defined geographical space, which is recognized, dedicated and managed, through level or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

The advantages of in-situ conservation are:

  • Biodiversity is conserved in its natural state.
  • Even degraded areas can be restored and rejuvenated.

The limitations of in-situ conservation are:

  • With increasing population pressures, it is becoming difficult to set aside protected areas.
  • Many protected areas do not receive the level of legal protection, proper management, and adequate funds that they need.
  • Widespread encroachment by poachers, settlers, and other continue in many such areas. Flora, Fauna, as well as resources like wood and minerals continue to be exploited.
  • There are often conflicts between the authorities of the protected area and the local communities. It is not easy to decide whether to displace the local communities or to let them live in the area without harming the biodiversity.

The people living near a protected areas are often seen as adversaries and are not involved in the conservation process. The chances of success are higher if the local people are consulted in the planning and design of the reserve. Ideally, the locals must be made partners on conservation. They should also be trained as guides and wildlife experts to restore degraded areas.

What is the importance of protected areas?

Protected areas

  • are at the core of efforts towards conserving nature and the ecosystem services it provides us.
  • are the mainstay of biodiversity conservation
  • contribute to people’s livelihoods, particularly at the local level
  • provide protection from the impacts of natural disasters.
  • help mitigate and adapt to climate change.

What is the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB)?

This is a major effort is biodiversity conservation, launched by UNESCO in 1971. It is an intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environments. The core concept of MAB is the declaration of biosphere reserves.

What are biosphere reserves?

Biosphere reserves are sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity. They are places that provides local solutions to global challenges.

Some features of biosphere reserves are:

  • Biosphere reserves include terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems.
  • Each reserve promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.
  • Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located. Their status is internationally recognized.

Biosphere reserves consist of three interrelated zones that aim to fulfil three complementary and mutually reinforcing functions:

  1. The core area comprises a strictly protected zone that contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, as well as species and genetic variation.
  2. The buffer zone surrounds or adjoins the core area, and is used for activities compatible with sound ecological practices that can reinforce scientific research, monitoring, training, and education.
  3. The transition area is where communities foster socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable economic and human activities.

As of December 2018, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) consisted of 686 sites in 122 countries, including 20 transboundary sites.


What is the Convention on Biological Diversity?

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was approved in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and came into force in 1993. It is a major step forward in the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. As of February 2019, 196 countries were parties to the Convention. India ratified it in 1994. The US is unique- it signed the Convention in 1993, but has not ratified it.

The Convention has three main goals:

  • Conservation of biodiversity.
  • Sustainable use of the components of biodiversity.
  • Sharing the benefits arising from the commercial and other utilization of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way.

Under the Convention, government undertake to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity. They are required to develop national biodiversity strategies and action plans, and to integrate these into broader national plans for environment and development.

While CBD is a step forward, it has some drawbacks and implementation problems:

  • CBD excludes the existing gene bank collections. Thus, 4 million seeds, which are also of high commercial value, are outside the control of CBD.
  • CBD encourages bilateral agreements, even though many biodiversity issues are regional or global. This has led to some poor countries giving away the rights over their biodiversity by signing agreements with rich countries or big corporations.
  • As with many international agreements, the implementation of CBD has also been slow and poor. The Convention does not provide for severe penalties for violations, nor does it have an enforcement mechanism.


What are the Aichi Biodiversity Targets?

The 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, approved in 2010, are based on the following five strategic goals:

  • Strategic Goal A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society.
  • Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressure on biodiversity and promote sustainable use.
  • Strategic Goal C: Improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity
  • Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management, and capacity building.

There are specific targets under each Strategic Goal. The Aichi targets are to be met by 2020.

What actions have been taken to conserve India’s biodiversity?

The main steps taken to conserve India’s biodiversity are:

  • Signing the Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Drawing up the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan
  • Enactment of laws and formation of policies
  • In situ conservation: Setting up protected areas
  • Ex-situ conservation: Setting up botanical gardens, zoos, etc.
  • Use of indigenous knowledge to conserve biodiversity

These efforts are described below.

What has India done under the Convention on Biological Diversity?

India is a signatory to CBD and its Protocols. In 1999, the Government of India prepared the National Policy and Macrolevel Action Strategy on Biodiversity through a consultative process. This document was a statement of policies and strategies needed for conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. Thereafter, the MoEFCC implemented an externally aided project, the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), from 2000 to 2004.

India was one of the first countries to have a proactive legislation and enacted a comprehensive Biological Diversity Act in 2002 to implement the provisions of CBD. The Biodiversity Rules were notified in 2004. The Act is being implemented through a three-tier structure:

  • National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) at the national level,
  • State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) at the state level, and
  • Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at the local level.

The Biological Diversity Act covers conservation, use of biological resources and associated knowledge occurring in India for commercial or research purposes or for the purposes of bio-survey and bio-utilization. It provides a framework for access to biological resources and sharing the benefits arising out of such access and use. The Act also includes in its ambit the transfer of research results and application for intellectual property rights (IPRs) relating to Indian biological resources.

The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) was establishing in 2003 to implement the Biological Diversity Act. The NBA is a statutory and autonomous body and  it performs facilitative, regulatory and advisory function for the Government of India on issues of conservation, sustainable use of biological resources and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of biological resources.

Following India’s adoption of the National Environment Policy (NEP) in 2006, the National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP) was prepared by revising and updating the National Policy and Macrolevel Action Strategy on Biodiversity, developed in 1999, and using the final NBSAP.

India’s NBAP, formulated through a comprehensive inter-ministerial process and approved in 2008, was developed prior to CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.

The NBAP covered the following aspects:

  • Strengthening and integration of in situ, on-farm, and ex situ conservation
  • Augmentation of natural resource base and its sustainable utilization
  • Ensuring inter and intra-generational equity
  • Regulation of introduction of invasive alien species and their management
  • Assessment of vulnerability and adaptation of climate change and desertification
  • Integration of biodiversity concerns in economic and social development
  • Management of pollution impacts
  • Development and integration of biodiversity databases
  • Strengthening implementation of policy, legislative and administrative measures for biodiversity conservation and management
  • Building of national capacities for biodiversity conservation and appropriate use of new technologies
  • Valuation of goods and services provided by biodiversity and use of economic instruments in decision making processes
  • International cooperation.

In the light of CBD’s Strategic Plan 2011-2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, India undertook a process of updating its NBAP in order to further build synergies between the NBAP and Aichi Biodiversity Targets. IN 2014, an Addendum to the NBAP was issued, detailing National Biodiversity Targets following the Aichi Targets.


What are the different types of protected areas in India?

The three main types of protected areas are wildlife sanctuary, national park, and biosphere reserve.

Wildlife Sanctuary

  • Any area (other than any reserve forest or the territorial waters) notified by a state government as a sanctuary, because the area is of adequate ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, natural, or zoological significance, for the purpose of protecting, propagating, or developing wildlife and its environment.
  • Some restricted human activities are allowed inside a sanctuary area as specified in the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

National Park

  • An area, whether a sanctuary or not, notified by a state government as a National Park, by reason of its ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, or zoological association or importance, for the purpose of protecting and propagating wildlife.
  • Settlements and private ownership of land are not permitted.
  • Traditional activities like grazing and fuel wood collection are also prohibited.
  • No human activity is permitted inside a National Park except those permitted by the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state.

Biosphere Reserve

  • An area, usually much larger than a wildlife sanctuary or national park, designated as per the guidelines set by UNESCO’s Man and the Biopsphere (MAB) Programme.
  • A biosphere reserve usually includes wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.
  • In biosphere reserves, wild flora and fauna are protected, even while people are allowed to live in the area and carry on their traditional activities.

The objectives of India’s National Biosphere Programme (initiated in 1986) are:

  1. Serve as a wider base for the conservation of the entire range of living resources and their ecological foundations, in addition to the already established Protected Area Network system
  2. Bring representative ecosystems under conservation and sustainable use on a long-term basis.
  3. Ensure the participation of local inhabitants for effective management and improve the livelihoods of the inhabitants through sustainable use
  4. Integrate scientific research with traditional knowledge of conservation, education, and training as a part of the overall management of biosphere reserves.

Currently, 18 sites, covering an area of about 90,000 sq km, have been established as biosphere reserves and many more proposed. As of December 2018, 11 of the 18 sites had been designated under UNESCO MAB, the latest being the Khangchendzoga Reserve.

Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves

  • Conservation reserves and community reserves denote protected areas, which typically act as buffer zone to or connectors and migration corridors between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and reserved and protected forests of India.
  • Such areas are designated as conservation reserves, if they are uninhabited and completely owned by the Government of India.
  • Such areas are designated as community reserves and used for subsistence by communities, if part of the land is privately owned.
  • These categories were added because of reduced protection in and around existing or proposed protected areas due to private ownership of land.
  • These two protected area categories were first introduced in the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act of 2002.

Private Conservation Areas

  • Globally, these are areas owned by an individual or an organization, where the habitat and resident species were provided with some kind of protection.
  • In India, the government does not provide any legal or physical protection to such entities, except for the community reserves mentioned above and the corridors described below.
  • The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and World Land Trust (WLT) are working together to secure safe passage for elephants, tigers, and other threatened species away from humans. They are setting up the following corridors for wildlife movement:
  • Siju-Rewak and Rewak-Emangre Corridors in the Garo Hills, Meghalaya, primarily for elephants.
  • Mudahalli Corridor within the Nilgiri Biosphere for elephants and tigers
  • Tirunelli-Kudrakote Corridor in Wayanad, Kerala, for elephants and tigers.

Marine Protected Areas

  • A marine protected areas (MPA) is essentially a space in the ocean where human activities are more strictly regulated than the surrounding waters- similar to national parks we have on land
  • These places are given special protection for natural or historic marine resources by local, state, territorial, native, regional, or national authorities.
  • Every MPA is also designated as a sanctuary, national park, or community reserve.


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